SPRINGFIELD, NJ - At the town council meeting on June 26, former governor Richard Codey was on hand to present new signs to the township. The signs read “Springfield is a stigma-free town”.  They are part of a campaign from the Codey Fund for Mental Health to break down barriers when talking about mental illnesses.

As a new partner in this initiative, Springfield will join other towns in the local area, including Maplewood and Livingston. The Stigma-Free Project has also put signs up at several college campuses in the area. That list includes local schools like Drew University, Farleigh Dickinson and Seton Hall.

With the launch of the stigma-free zone, Springfield also becomes one of the first towns in Union County to adopt this initiative. The town joins Plainfield, which adopted the resolution in March of last year.

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Governor Codey mentioned that the inspiration for the project came from his wife, whose mental health was public talking point during his time as governor. He said that when he looked at the way people talked about physical illness and mental illness, he saw a big gap between the way the two were approached.

“If you have something wrong with your kidney it’s no big deal in terms of the stigma to it,” Codey said. “But mental illness has a stigma to it. So we decided a couple years ago, maybe four or five, to start this in the state of New Jersey along with some other people who do it as well.”

Deputy mayor Erica DuBois was one of the first people on the committee to advocate for the issue. She said that bringing the initiative was a joint effort between the township committee and residents in town.

“I actually brought the idea to the township committee when I first took my seat,” DuBois said. “The township committee was very supportive of it. I’ve been working with a group of concerned citizens for the better part of a year now to get this off the ground and this is just another step in the process. Now we are labeled a stigma-free township, and now people will start talking about it, and we’re working on more programming and just more accessible information for people when they need mental health access.”

Dubois said that so far there has been one program held as in conjunction with the initiative. The program, called ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ brought teens and parents together to talk with Timothy McMahon, a Drug Enforcement Administration special agent. As DuBois noted, drug addiction is a facet of mental health.

DuBois said that the town plans on having more events in the upcoming year but will put out a needs assessment through the township to see exactly what residents are looking for.

And as for what he hopes will happen as a result of the new program, Codey said that an open dialogue and understanding of mental health are some of the key results that he is looking for in town.

“What’s going to happen in Springfield, people are going to ask the question, ‘What does this mean?’” Codey said. “And somebody is going to tell them ‘well it means it has a stigma, and you’ve got to get over that and you’ve got to go get help.’”